A Student’s Guide to the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Online

(A blog post by Amber Leenders, research assistant to the project 2017-18)

Until this year, I had never worked with the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL). On the rare occasions that I did take a peek at it, I was intimidated by the enormous walls of text that make up most entries. However, I’ve built up respect and even admiration for the dictionary this year as I’ve researched and categorized some of the vocabulary related to books, paper, parchment, and more.

In this post, I aim to provide a few tips to smooth the way for any Latin student wishing to learn more about the nuances or historical context of words using the TLL. Especially for anyone wishing to study Late Antique texts, the TLL is an essential resource, since it contains citations from sources up to 600 CE.

The TLL is published online by De Gruyter, and it has some start guides in multiple languages. Access to the database is usually provided by universities and other institutions. On its website, the TLL provides additional information about how to navigate the online database. The TLL‘s website also provides an important newer version of its Index, including material published since 1990.

The “User Guide” in English is here, which is the best starting place. This provides an illustrated breakdown of the database and its features.

The Praemonenda in English is here. This document includes details on the writing of the TLL, how entries are formatted and organized by topic, and abbreviations and other conventions.

The “Search Help” document (German and English) is here. This helps to locate specific lines in the TLL and search by different criteria.

Each word has an article, citation, and outline view, which will emphasize different information about the entries. Toggle through to see what works for your research needs. The article will be full of citations from various authors, organized into sections based on shared meaning. Editorial notes about the entries are included in italicized text.

Not every quote will have a full citation; if the quote is from the same author and work as the previous one, the citation will only include the new line number. If you’re not sure if a number refers to the same text as a previous abbreviation, hover over the link with your cursor—the URL that pops up at the bottom of the screen will show a unique ID number depending on the work, so you can match it to previous quotes.

To see which author and work a quote is from, you will have to go to the Index Librorum. This is the complete bibliography of the TLL, and each author and work has its own separate ID #. Clicking on the blue abbreviation links will take you to the relevant Index page. The abbreviation in the Index should match the abbreviation in the work. If it’s not clear who the author is, it might be an unusual text like a certain codex, inscription, papyrus, or Bible verse, for example. If you’re looking for one author or work in particular, look up the abbreviation for that author and CTRL+F on the article page.

Example Article View:

screenshot of a section of a TLL entry

Example Index Librorum:

example of the TLL index librorum

It takes some practice to extract information quickly from the TLL, but in time it can become a powerful research tool.

Best of luck!

Amber Leenders is an MA student in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at UBC and was a Research Assistant on the Ancient Books Project in the academic year 2017-18.

[Posted edited on October 11 to include additional information kindly provided by the TLL].